An Exploration of Material Compatibility

In his latest series Solar Caress, artist Pak-Keung Wan explores the porosity of bodies and the blurring of boundaries that can be achieved through creative process. Pak-Keung uses postcards he collected from a secondhand shop (some of which are nearly a century old) to apply delicate, metallic line drawings, guided by a fascination with harmonic patterns and the cosmic realm.

Along with an interest in the way that different materials and substances interact and compliment one another, the innovative artist is fascinated by solar energies; shown in the shapes that appear on his postcards and more abstractly, in the notion that there are larger energies at play responsible for drawing him to certain postcards.

We spoke with Pak-Keung to discuss the on-going project.

THE PLUS: What inspired you to use the Spolvero technique?

Pak-Keung Wan: Solar Caress grew out of a concentrated period of drawing with silverpoint on gesso, a substance that involves several layers of applying and sanding to produce a porcelain-like surface. Drawing on gesso was like caressing a lover’s skin.

Using gesso led me to spolvero since it was used as a method of transferring a drawing, through punctures, onto intonaco – the final layer of plaster for a painting. I often view paper more as an object than a mere surface, so alongside playing with spolvero, paper was also being soaked, images were made to be viewed from the back. There are bodily analogies to the punctures, in its osmotic potential, paper as a membrane.

TP: Tell us a bit more about your views on “the porosity of bodies” and how your work explores ideas of identity more widely.

PKW: This membranous nature of paper/skin relations is perhaps relevant here. My work often features movement across divides, of forms relinquishing and becoming.

In my Ascent wall drawings the geological extends through the human form, while my current work Lune straddles the field of both data and organic. If there are readings of identity towards my work, I wish it to occur beyond the trappings of the geographical.

TP: Where did you first come across the postcards?

PKW: The postcards were found in second hand shops and accrued gradually over time. The drawing didn’t happen until much later. Initially, I didn’t consciously choose some over others, although I like the idea of forces of attraction playing a part, much like how planets and moons end up together.

TP: What’s your favourite medium to use when drawing?

PKW: This has to be the metallic pencils from a certain manufacturer. I like the way the particles catch the light and the transparent qualities they give to the drawn line. I also like graphite; how it plays with light whilst offering depth, drawing you in.

TP: Are there any particular qualities you look for when choosing a postcard?

PKW: For the drawings to ‘work,’ the surface of the postcards require a certain texture and structural integrity. This integrity dictates how the postcards are to be handled and drawn onto; the delicacy of each line, the size of the compass point.

TP: Do you think this would work with more modern photos or part of the effectiveness is in the contrast between old portraits and modern-looking spherical shapes and bright colours?

PKW: I think the element of time that is embodied within the material substrate of the postcards help to elevate the works with something beyond what more modern materials can offer.

Referring back to the analogy of cosmic bodies, the attraction of these postcards are that the figures are seen in a distant past, much like how planets are seen here on Earth. We never see Venus in the present, only in its past.

In terms of the drawing tools, ink pens give a rather flat and consistent line that is very different to graphite, pencil or oil stick, although they all add to the visual qualities across the range of Solar Caress.

TP: How does this project differ from your usual work?

PKW: Solar Caress is consistent with my other works in theme and the use of line as a recurring motif. Perhaps the main difference is that they have circulated more in the art market with several being collected and sold.

TP: What’s your go to solution for overcoming a creative block?

PKW: I see blocks as part of the living, creative process and treat them in the same way as other energy blockages, through practicing more Chi Gung and Taiji, which supports the fumbling around that usually occurs during my creative blocks.